Education

Fear grips parents over ‘election violence’

…call on govt to shut down schools

ANXIETY

For fear of safety and security of their children and wards during the general election, some parents are calling on the government to declare a short break for students; but some stakeholders are saying such call is unnecessary

 

˜ Call, suggestion for school closure pedestrian, absurd –Don

˜ How could anyone contemplate closing schools for fear of election violence? –Stakeholders

 

Kayode Olanrewaju Barely a month to the country’s 2023 general election, there is palpable fear and anxiety among parents over the safety and security of their children and wards on campuses and school hostels during the election.

The election is slated for February 25, and March 11, 2023 across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The parents’ anxiety, it was learnt, stemmed from the growing fear of anticipated violence that may characterise the election, if the current level of insecurity in the country and violence pervading the on-going electioneering campaign by the political parties is anything to worry about.

Worried by this scenario, stakeholders, particularly parents, have called on the government at the federal and state levels to declare a short break for the students, apparently to allow those on campuses and boarding systems to return home to their parents during the election period.

The parents claimed that the safety of their children and wards could not be guaranteed on school premises, since no one could predict the outcome of the election. Meanwhile, the National Peace Committee Chairman, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), has expressed worry over violence during and after the elections, even as he said that Nigerians are highly worried about their safety after the February 25 – March 11 general election, as the exercise could be marred by violence.

The retired General, who spoke through the Head of Secretariat of the Committee, Rev. Fr. Attah Barkindo, during the signing of a peace accord by eight candidates for the March 11, 2023 governorship election in Kano State, which was held at the Minna Event Centre, identified the reports of the violent attacks at campaign grounds as a serious security problem that should be stopped.

Consequently, a section of the parents, who spoke with New Telegraph on the need for their children and wards to be under their roofs during the election, however, vowed that if the government failed to close the schools for that period they would not take any chance to allow their children and wards to stay in school. Parents’ anxiety In fact, a Lagos-based legal practitioner, Mr B. Olaniyi, who said it is difficult to predict any situation in Nigeria, stated that it would be advisable for the government to declare a short break in some state considered to be volatile when it comes to election issues.

 

Though he did not mention any state, however, he insisted that given the attitude of some Nigerians to election outcomes, and the already heated political atmosphere in the country currently, it would be better to allow the students to go home for those two weeks. “Ordinarily, calling for schools to be shut down because of elections should be the last thing anyone could think about in a sane society. But, here violence may erupt like what the country witnessed in some parts of the country in the 1983 general election,” he said.

Expressing anxiety over what she described as “envisaged violence” during and after the elections, a mother, who identified herself simply as Temidayo Udoh, said it is advisable that students vacate the campus and hostels since safety of lives and property could no longer be guaranteed in the country, and the forthcoming election is not an exception. Towards this end, she noted that it would be better to release the children to go home for their safety for those few days.

She said: Due to the state of insecurity in the country and violence that characterised every election in the country, and particularly the threat of violence that may follow the outcomes of this year’s election, instead of allowing the students to remain in school, they should be allowed to come back home and be under the watch of their parents.

“However, if the government could assure us that our children would be adequately protected and secured, we can always leave them in school. But, it is better for the students to vacate their schools, I mean those in hostels, to come home and stay under their parents so that they can keep their tabs on them.”

Another parent, Gbemi Adeoye, stressed that in exception of students that registered in their school areas that can stay on campus to vote, but besides that the students should immediately leave the school for their safety. A few weeks break, according to her, should be declared by the government because the students may be hired by politicians as thugs to foment crisis during the election. “As parents, our minds will not be at rest while our children are in school during the election. Therefore, we are calling on the government to close the schools for that period,” she said.

On his part, Adeola Adedeji, echoed the position of other parents, saying the students should be allowed to come back home during the election period for safety purposes, since no  one can predict how the election would turn out to be. “As a parent, I am just being scared over our children’s safety, and I will prefer that they come home to stay on campus or in school,” he added.

Ebenezer Oludola, who also spoke with New Telegraph, however, insisted that he won’t allow his children to stay in school during the election, saying: “I want my children to come back home so that we can keep a close watch on them and ensure their safety during the elections. No one knows the direction the election is going, given the skirmishes being witnessed during the electioneering campaign across the state,” he noted.

Echoing this position, Ben Ogbonna called on the federal and state government to declare a break during the election period for students to be under their parents. “I feel every parent should ensure that their children are at home with them during the elections because no one knows what will transpire with the way things are going. It is always better if we keep the children under our watch and also monitor their movement within the period of this election.”

Curiously, while parents are bent on the short break should be declared by the government to allow their children to return home for the election period, some stakeholders have kicked against such a call for schools to close or to declare a public holiday. Stakeholders’ position Reacting to the call, the former   Dean of School of Transport and Logistics, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof Gbadebo Odewumi, said he personally didn’t think there is any need for schools to shut down because of the election. While expressing displeasure that the students had lost so much time, especially university students to strikes, that losing at least another one whole month or two weeks for the election may not be desirable.

“Besides, millions of idle hands during the election may actually provide the fueling material for violence,” he said, adding that there is no candidate in the election that commands such fanatical followers or supporters that could cause or trigger violent eruption upon the outcome of the election. Similarly, the Vice-Chancellor of Ahman Pategi University, Patigi in Kwara State, Prof Mahfouz Adedimeji, however, queried why schools should be closed because of elections, saying it is apparently unnecessary.

Despite the fear expressed by some parents and stakeholders over election violence, he recalled that the entire school system was closed for almost a year in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, while public universities were also shut down for eight months in 2022 as a result of ASUU strike, saying how could people now contemplate closing schools again because of the fear of envisaged violence that could trail the election. He, however, noted: “Even in Palestine, where there is deadly and humiliating occupation, as well as Ukraine where war is still raging ferociously, people still go to school.

This is because education is life and there can be no meaningful life without it.” The Vice-Chancellor, therefore, insisted that being at home does not make the children and wards safer, while being in school or on campus does not pose a greater threat either. “What is important is for security arrangements to be properly provided by the government and school authorities. It is a different matter if students need to vote where they registered and to give them a short break for a day or two in order not to disenfranchise them.

But the election ordinarily does not call for any special break in the school calendar,” Adedimeji stated. Also, while expressing his concern, the former Vice- Chancellor of Ekiti State University (EKSU), Prof Dipo Kolawole, said the call or suggestion that schools should be closed for elections was pedestrian and absurd. “Such call is an indictment of the government’s inability to provide security for the citizenry,” the retired don said, even as he frowned at such call and how long shall we, as a people, continue to advertise our underdevelopment in the global community.

He said: “Can it ever be imagined or suggested that the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany and France should close schools down for elections. “Even in the African subregion, when did South Africa, Ghana or Rwanda close their schools for elections to hold? The government must not be indulged in abdicating its responsibility of providing security for the citizenry by a convenient firebrigade approach.”

However, the National Coordinator, Education Right Campaign (ERC), Hassan Taiwo Soweto, said whether schools should close or not should be determined by an accurate analysis of the security situation and threats of electoral violence in different parts of the country. “Of course, it is no longer news that no part of the country is safe at the moment and that desperate politicians, as well as non-state actors including Boko Haram, bandits, unknown gunmen and other secessionist forces are likely to deploy violence to scuttle the polls,” he stated.

Thus, he said parents, guardians, teachers and trade unions in areas that are likely to experience electoral violence should estimate the threats and the risks in the areas, and therefore on that basis decide on the best course of action.

 

On the role of trade unions, especially the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Parent Teachers Associations (PTAs), National Parent Teachers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN) in the different schools and at national level need to organise series of fora through which this issue could be well articulated and discussed, with a view to taking a decision about whether a break should declared, or not.

 

He added: “What we want to emphasise as a group, however, is that in areas where the security situation requires that students and educators vacate the school premises for the election period, such a move should immediately be declared. “Besides, alternative mechanisms to ensure that learning does not stop and students’ academic activities are not disrupted should be considered.

This should include deployment of online teaching and learning platforms as deployed during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. “In the same vein, in areas where it is considered that the threat does not require schools to be closed; parents, guardians, teachers and the trade unions must work with security operatives to ensure that maximum protection is guaranteed for all students throughout the duration of the elections and beyond.”

A traditional ruler in Ondo State, Oba Sunday Amuseghan, Lawe II, the Kalasuwe of Apoiland, said if some states, including Lagos, Rivers, Ekiti and others could declare public holidays for the workers to collect their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), I think it will be safer to declare holidays for the students during the election period.

This, he said, had become necessary in view of the fact that elections in Nigeria have some elements of traditional Nigerian uniqueness, where open show of religion, tribal, party opposition, hatred, hired thuggery, voters’ double-smart deals and election irregularities, as well as fraudulent electoral officials and security agents working for the government in power leading to violent reactions, and destruction property and killing of the people have become common recurrences in the electoral exercise.

Oba Amuseghan, a Professor of Sociolinguistics and English Applied Linguistics and former lecturer at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA), stated that “it is a simple logic that teachers and workers will not only vote for candidates of their choice, but also participate as ad-hoc staff for elections. “I think the government should not make a mistake not to declare a short break for students, because there is no sense in declaring holidays for workers to collect their PVCs and not allowing students to go home for their safety in case of violence,” he noted.

According to him, almost 95 per cent of the tertiary institution workers are eligible voters, and therefore the government should allow them if they decide to go and cast their votes. The monarch said: “For the fear of some parents that there may be bloody violence during election time, I believe that it will be a wise decision if the students and workers are allowed to go home for their safety and to exercise their constitutional rights. Peace is needed; justice is required and credible election is non-negotiable this time around in Nigeria.”

 

 

 

 

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